Nigeria’s Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has set July ending 2021 as deadline for conclusion of the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Akpabio stated this at the commencement of the physical verification phase of the audit at Ibom Icon Hotels and Golf Resort in Uyo. He said the audit was part of the internal reform of NDDC.
The minister said the 16 field auditors selected for the field audit would now begin to identify and verify projects across the Niger Delta.
He rejected rumours that the forensic audit had derailed, saying detractors are falsely claiming that the forensic audit is being used as a ploy to continue with NDDC’s interim administration.
Akpabio said, “It is the considered position of President Muhammadu Buhari that for us to have a properly constituted board for the NDDC, we should first take a look at what has happened to the commission since inception.
“There was nothing our detractors have not done to stop the forensic audit and this has led some people to be left wondering if the forensic audit has been aborted.”
Akpabio observed that budgetary delays affected the progress of the forensic exercise, prompting Buhari to intervene to save the situation.
He said, “The president is resolute that he cannot leave the Niger Delta and the NDDC the way he met it. As a demonstration of this commitment, he is funding the forensic audit from the budget of the Presidency.”
The minister explained that the security component of the audit exercise was very important because of the safety issues in the Niger Delta. He said, “We decided to start the audit exercise from the NDDC headquarters, while security arrangements were being firmed up. The field visit is a critical next step, after which we go into the office to produce the reports.”
Akpabio stressed that the physical verification was a serious exercise, because the results of the exercise might lead to the prosecution of the affected contractors, some of whom, he said, abandoned their contracts without completing them.
Similarly, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Dr Babayo Ardo, said the take-off of the physical verification phase marked a milestone in the effort to reposition NDDC for effective service delivery.
Ardo said, “The audit of the headquarters has been completed. We are now starting the second phase of the exercise. We will go round all the nine states to inspect the over 12,000 projects that have been identified by the NDDC.”
The NDDC interim administrator, Mr. Efiong Akwa, emphasised that the forensic audit was a serious and deliberate exercise, which made it necessary for the physical inspection of project sites in the nine states of the Niger Delta. Akwa said wherever the over 12,000 projects were located, the committee had been mandated to visit them.
Akwa said a security team had been put together to escort the committee members and ensure their security.
Lead Forensic Auditor, Mr. Joshua Basiru, threw light on the audit exercise, confirming that Buhari ordered the forensic audit of the commission in 2019 as a result of a alleged huge gap noted between resources invested and the infrastructural, human and economic development recorded by the commission.
Basiru stated, “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that this forensic audit exercise is successfully executed, in a bid to re-position the commission in terms of effectively delivering on its mandate, as well as improving transparency and accountability in NDDC.
“We must not allow this project to be scuttled by those who have benefited in the past, or those who are currently benefiting unjustly from the current loopholes in the commission’s policies and operating procedures as well as the profligacy exhibited by its previous management teams to the detriment of the vast majority of the Niger Delta people, and therefore do not like to see change coming to NDDC.”
He said despite some challenges encountered during the first phase of documentation and data extraction, they were able to make appreciable progress in line with the forensic audit terms of reference.
Okon Bassey in Uyo